Ira Glass, producer and host of the radio show “This American Life”, put together a short video about “The Gap”, which any creative person experiences at one point or another. The Gap happens after you’ve had an idea and a project has been started, but you are now in the middle of it and don’t quite know where you are going and how it’s going to turn out in the end.
This is the point at which you get frustrated and begin to lose faith in what you are doing. Thoughts of quitting arise. Doubt gnaws at your brain. Here’s a link to the video.
Right now, I am in The Gap with my current project. And the only way to deal with it, as Glass says, is to just keep going. Keep making work. Keep shooting, processing, printing, questioning. Just keep moving forward.
In past experiences with The Gap, I’ve discovered that it may last a short time, but it also can last for quite a long time. Regardless of how long it lasts for any given project, one has to have faith that it will all work out and that the end result will be satisfying. And if it isn’t, well, then isn’t that something we can learn and move on from as a starting point for what we do next?
My most recent posts have touched on some of the technical issues that I’ve been having with my current project. The question of what camera to use has loomed large, and has gotten me thinking a lot about comfort zones. The questions I have wrestled with are: “Am I too comfortable using the panoramic and/or square format? Would I challenge myself more by using a different format camera?”
The answer I have come up with, at least for now, is, “No” to both questions. One of things I love about using the panoramic or square format is that I constantly feel challenged to further explore their possibilities. Rather than feeling predictable, they force me to rethink what I am doing every time I use them. I have never felt that way using 35mm, 6×7 or 4×5 cameras.
But the larger question here is: “Will my work improve if I force myself to work in a way that makes me feel uncomfortable?” My answer to this is: “Yes.” I also believe, however, that if I am uncomfortable with everything I am doing, my brain grinds to a halt. What works best for me is to make myself uncomfortable in limited-but-ever-changing ways throughout the course of a project. I’ve found that throwing only one or two wrenches into the works at any given time does an amazing job at putting me off my stride and forcing me to reconsider what I am doing.
Being uncomfortable is part of the sometimes-painful process of bringing new work to life, because it leads to uncertainty. But I’ve found that I ultimately grow more creatively when I force uncomfortableness upon myself and that makes that it totally worthwhile. Here’s a great article that speaks to this: “The Creative Benefits of Exploring the Uncomfortable”.
Because I have been wrestling with what kind of camera to use for my current project, I have also been confronted with the issue of the square vs. the rectangular format. This is not a new phenomenon for me. Back when I was in grad school, I had a lot of trouble trying to find my voice as an artist. At the time, I used 35mm, 6×7, and 4×5 cameras, but never was comfortable with any of them.
It wasn’t until my father gave me an old panoramic camera that had belonged to my great-grandfather that I began understanding that format can make a huge difference in the kind of work you do. This camera, an Al-Vista Model 5D, took 5″ roll film and took a picture with roughly 160˚ angle of view. (I used this camera with cut-down 11″ x 14″ sheet film exclusively for the Shadowing the Gene Pool series.) From the start, I discovered that the long, slender panoramic format gave me a creative voice that had been missing. There was something about how I could arrange things in space that completely spoke to me, and since that time I have used a variety of panoramic cameras and loved them all. The fact that panoramic images are rectangular isn’t lost on me, but I don’t seem to be limited by them creatively in the same way that I am by less-long rectangles.
I didn’t start using square format cameras until much later, but discovered when I did that they, too, allow me to work with space in a way that allows me to speak with my pictures in a way that the conventional rectangular formats (35mm, 6×7, 4×5) never have. As a beginner, I never realized the powerful impact that an image’s shape and dimensions can have on the meaning of a photograph. Now that I do, I choose my tools for any given project with great care.